Category Archives: producing

The Production Process

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a talk about covering “The Production Process” at Film Oxford. Like many I feel nervous talking in front of an audience. They say you should do something each day which scares you, so I agreed to give the talk for an hour or so. One of the problems creating the talk was knowing how experienced the audience would be and how much information to cover. I decided to fall back on earlier experiences of filmmaking and focus predominately on pre-production.

The Production Process
If pre-production is well planned then hopefully the rest of the production should all go to plan (at least until post production). There was a dazzling array of talent in the audience (many who were specialised and had years of experience). I tried to overcome my initial nerves to deliver a candid and hopefully useful talk. Whilst some of the context may be lost I’ve included my slides here. I hope any other filmmakers reading will find some of this information useful.

Download The Production Process Talk Slides by Andrew Carslaw


Day 10: The Rush

Whilst Emmi had a pretty long script development process, the production came together incredibly quickly. We pretty much pulled the project together in little over a month. Once we knew what the budget from our fundraiser, we made ends meet accordingly. This didn’t always make for comfortable experiences but amazingly it came together in the end. Locations were falling through and their availability was changing on an almost hourly basis right up until the day before shooting. The fact we only had certain locations for a few hours in some cases – made things even more difficult (the staircase was particular legendary):

The Choice: Gillian Running

The production was originally scheduled as a four day shoot. However we condensed so much down due to limited availability, we finish ahead of schedule (three days). How’s that for efficiency? You can’t help but embrace the rush of film-making!

Good Training

I have to say this week got off to a fantastic start! Running late for work (with particular emphasis on the “running”) – I only just managed to catch the train in time. That elated feeling of “phew” subsided when the train pulled off and the ticket inspector arrived. Then the realisation hit: I’d left my mobile phone and wallet on the desk at home. Thankfully the ticket inspector recognised me and said “Season holder right?”. I nodded. Over the first hurdle, but more were to come – how would I get past the barriers?

After arriving and being directed from pillar to post by almost every member of station personnel on the platform – it appeared no one really had a clue what to do – least of all me. The station manager I was told was in a very important meeting. I considered taking the train back again (which would have cost me around two hours and a hefty spot fine if caught), I saw the younger “less forgiving” ticket inspector get on so I thought better of it. Drat! By now I was feeling like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.


Around this point something caught my eye – a poster which had the station manager on it. And who would this be who has just stepped out onto the opposite platform? Seizing the moment I bounded over the bridge and said “You’re the station manager right?”. His face and response were priceless – “Er, only if it’s not a complaint”. At last I found the right person, who was admittedly extremely helpful – my details were checked and through I went. Albeit one way – and without a phone or any money.

Next mission then, to blag some money for food/refreshments/train ticket home from a work colleague (thankfully a lot easier than getting out of the station). Brandishing a tenner, I carefully budgeted the rest of the day. Amazingly I was able to get teas/coffees, a three-course meal, a luxury drink and most importantly the train ticket back from this – with plenty of change to spare.

Thinking back afterwards this struck me how these are exactly the sorts of things which are all par for the course as a film producer: panic, talking to people, blagging, problem solving, seizing the moment, limited resources, asking for money, budgeting and making ends meet. So it seems I put some of these skills to good use throughout the day. And amazingly, I haven’t forgotten my wallet since.


Yesterday Gail Hackston and I went to the Film London offices to pitch for Cancer Hair which was shortlisted for the Eastern Edge film fund. There was only a 20% chance we would win. The other teams were all extremely strong and every project was interesting. We weren’t successful! Even so this wasn’t a wasted trip.

The process of pitching is a cross between speed-dating and a job interview. You have 5 minutes to sell the project. It is vital you can hit the key points with ease. Open inviting body language and confidence is vital. You need to know the timing perfectly. But perhaps the single most important thing is passion and the ability to be able to “sell” the project.

I spent most of the day before the pacing up and down the kitchen doing jazz hands practicing –much to the amusement of our kids (“Daddy has gone mad and he’s still talking to himself”). In the end I structured things so I could add in or drop parts out depending on how the time was progressing. This wasn’t an easy process, but I am very glad I did this. It is remarkably easy to either ramble over the allocated time nervously or clam up and forget things nervously. There are aspects I’m sure we could improve – but I don’t think we delivered a truly terrible first-ever pitch. We will be speaking to Eastern Edge to gather feedback next week.

A knock-back is usually more important than a success – you can learn more from this. I believe this is the case, plus if it wasn’t meant to be – best we know now. That what doesn’t kill us…

For me, the process wasn’t really about getting the money (it wasn’t a vast sum in the first place, although it would have sped up the production schedule). It was about further training/experience and the gravitas of being associated with Eastern Edge/Film London. However there are positives about this outcome. We no longer need to feel bound to the conditions which would have been imposed had we won – namely:

  • We no-longer have to rush through and deliver a project within 3 months (but having a specified date does focus the mind)
  • We are no longer tied to a particular location
  • We can significantly reduce costs because of some of the conditions involved.

It also highlighted a few useful things:

  • The script is original and people love it.
  • The title divides people (myself included). Gail and I discussed this in detail afterwards. I have come to the conclusion that for fund-raising “Cancer hair” does what it says on the tin. However in terms of the end product – anything with “Cancer” in is too on the nose and a softer title needs to be considered. Especially considering it is actually a “feel good” film, which the title doesn’t suggest.
  • We should revise the schedule in more detail now we have time.

So all in all, I see this as a thoroughly useful exercise, even if the final outcome wasn’t the intended one.

Cancer Hair and Eastern Edge

The next large-scale project on the horizon is called Cancer Hair (title subject to change). This is another collaboration with Gail Hackston (who will make her directorial debut).

Cancer Hair on FernyFilms

The project is best described as an “unromantic comedy”. What attracts me to the project is the fact it is much more uplifting and positive than the title might  suggest. Rarely do we see what happens after “the battle is won” and the survivor is attempting to return to normality (which is the point of Cancer Hair). All of this has resonance being as my own mother has been survived through both breast/cervical cancer in the past – she is a truly inspirational woman!

We are filming the story in Gail’s local borough Redbridge which lead us to apply to Eastern Edge – who fund short films. They have shortlisted us alongside five other projects. Only one project can win the award however. I’ve attended some training sessions which I found pretty inspirational for several reasons:

1. It was interesting meeting the other groups who are also competing for the fund. Although technically in competition, it’s always good to networking with other film-makers. There is usually plenty of fun banter.

2. The Eastern Edge guys themselves are hyper-enthusiastic!

3. It’s been great seeing people who have been awarded in the past and hear about their projects. These were Kate Sullivan for Walking tall, Mark Downes for Stop and Ida Akesson for Moments and The Holiday. I had already met Ida at the Guerilla Filmmaker’s Masterclass. All three were wonderful inspiration!

Tomorrow we go and pitch the project to a panel at Film London. Wish us luck, and I’ll keep you posted on how things played out in due course.

Meanwhile, if you are film-maker that lives in the Redbridge area – it is well worth considering putting in a future application with Eastern Edge.

Show me the money!

This week I found myself in London having a couple of production meetings for my next two projects (Dad and Spare Change). Also found myself in the slightly surreal situation of visiting BAFTA (once again) to talk funding with a potential investor. Being at the earlier stages of my film-making journey, aside from Crowd-funding the concept was new and somewhat alien to me.

Of course we did some homework before going in, one is naturally more cautious when money and a list of demands are involved. The list as I saw it meant getting a nice cheque to cover our costs but ultimately signing many of the rights away. We rejected this and wanted to know more about the investor’s attraction to project as a spring-board to get things going. Part way through we realised that we would be making the film anyway and whilst the additional funding would be nice, it was coming with too many caveats.

The negotiations were beginning to wane, then a flash of inspiration hit me:

We might not need the money. However it’s clear the investor knows a lot about marketing, PR and the festival circuit. A lot more than we do! The investor is interested in the production, so why not drop the financial elements and trade with his skills instead?

It was clearly a swerve ball for the investor who was expecting us to either “take the money and run” or “walk away empty handed”. But it completely reinvigorated our conversation and he was extremely interested in the proposal. We renegotiated our terms by asking what he might want in return (essentially “in association with” and “executive producer” credits, in return for his PR skills and help navigating/representing us in  film-festivals). And we still get to hold onto our rights.

What do I like about this?

  • The deal and conditions are now balanced and fair for both parties. We keep the rights also.
  • I feel we will get more benefit from the skills on offer than we would had we gone solely for financial gain. We have already picked up some rather useful tips.
  • I now feel we have a much stronger bond with the investor, a bond which I hope might lead to additional collaborations in the future.
  • We clearly stood out from the crowd and differentiated ourselves.

Ultimately time will tell how right I am. But the point I’d like to make (as if it’s not been bludgeoned enough already) is that film-makers can trade in more than just money. In the right circumstances it can be far more beneficial!

To that end, if you feel you would like to support the actual project in question, the crowd-funding page is here. It would be lovely to hit our target financially, but you can also help us in other ways just by showing interest and spreading the word. Or you can make us an offer! 🙂

Producing waves

I’d have forgiven you if you thought I’d gone AWOL or turned into a film critic more recently. This is mostly because I am hectically busy and this is my busiest time of year (especially working at The University – it is examination marking time). I am long over-due an epic ramble. So let’s catch up on what has happened since my last proper update.

Well the Jubilee happened for one thing (has it really been that long?). Somehow I was roped into being the official village photographer for the event. And thankfully we held the party on the Saturday when it was at least dry.

I was also planning to go to the Bun throwing in Abingdon the following day (where Top Gear’s James May was demonstrating a bun-throwing device he devised). I can only assume anyone who went along got soaked! Anyway, the photography went well, which lead to another photography assignment at a wrestling match. Nothing like shaking it up a bit!

Of course I am primarily a film-maker rather than a photographer. Photography is all about capturing a snapshot – a moment in time. This is kind of at odds with film. Therefore my photographic style (if I have such a thing) is not particularly technical, classical or refined but mostly candid. I am a photographer who likes to sit at the back of a room – mostly un-noticed and capture something natural rather than something that looks staged or photoshopped to within an inch of its life. I guess you either like this style or you don’t…

Being a big Bond fan, I also haven’t given my thoughts on the new teaser for SkyFall (now that the dust has settled). The majority of the Bond fan-boys were jumping all over it branding it “Amazing!”, I recall feeling slightly underwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed the opening half a lot and it does it job – which is tease. But it was an identikit teaser, nothing separated it from a generic action film rather than Bond. I mean it could have been for a Bourne film as easily as it was Bond (and I really they really missed a trick there!). Does the structure/tone to this feel slightly familiar?

However one really positive thing I have to single out (apart from the fact it’s splendid to see a new version of Leo roaring again) is the amazing work by the DOP Roger Deakins. This is the first Bond film to be filmed in digital rather than traditional film (using Arri Alexa). The colours are lush and vibrant. Beautiful! The one thing that was rather subdued (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as the approach used in the film either) was the music. I liked this in the quieter half of the trailer. However, this is the 50th Anniversary of Bond. Where was a blazing rendition of the theme tune? Well, it wasn’t here for sure! So I had a go at composing my own Gun-barrel. The inspirations for it are the Moonraker/OHMSS gunbarrel and a bit of ethnic inspired flavour. I also had Eric Saussine’s fan-made Bond film Shatterhand in mind when making it also. I made it as noisy as I could (almost certainly too noisy), it’s not timed correctly, but here you go anyway (or you can click the image below).

Music Image

I’ve also thrown together a new track recently called The Hybrid. This is a mix of orchestral elements and more synthetic elements. Came together in an evening without too much trouble and I enjoyed making it. My time is extremely limited at the moment but I really hope I am able to expand my composition repertoire soon and try a few different orchestral directions. I really would like to try my hand at composing a fan-fare, watch this space!

This week I also managed to find a spare evening to compose and co-edited a small promo for a project I am involved in called DAD. You can see the result here:

This is a short film dealing with the weighty issue of child abuse. So not exactly a feel-good crowd-pleaser, but it is a very well written piece by Sean Langton which is sensitively handled. You can follow its development here. I am involved as a co-producer and as the composer/editor. It will be directed by Alan Campbell who is also taking on DOP duties on Spare Change with me. Speaking of which what IS happening with Spare Change?

Well, I have my lovely storyboards at last. A massive thank-you to Layla Mirmalek for doing a wonderful job with this (I know it was a major chore, and I hope you reconsider your decision of never going through the torture of storyboarding again someday). Do you want to see a sample? Sure you do (well it’s too bad if you don’t!).

The biggest bomb-shell occurred last month, although not entirely unexpected (sad all the same). Sherilee has had to drop out of producing duties for Spare Change, I sensed she was stretching herself rather thin (more so than me). Sherilee still hopes to be attached to Spare Change project as the casting director. Obviously I wish her all the best in her other endeavours and hope we get another opportunity to work together again soon once things calm down a bit.

This just leaves the small question – who IS going to produce? Obviously I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement. I was even considering the option of producing myself (despite saying “I’m never doing that again”). However fate seemed to smile at me when Spare Change writer Gail Hackston announced she wanted to enter into the realms of producing. Personally I could think of no better person qualified for the job than the person who created it in the first place! So I am extremely excited to be working with Gail on the project. It’s early days, a lot of “back to square one” talks still to be had, but expect a few more announcements about the project soon. The plan is still to shoot this sometime in Autumn.

Finally, this is a random way to sign off – but I love this – what a great idea!

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